Popular Mexican street fare is reinvented as a flavor-packed salad that’s quick to prepare and always a hit!
I’m pretty sure I was a college graduate before I witnessed someone putting anything but butter and salt on corn on the cob. After all, I grew up in Lancaster County where corn is frequently consumed the day it is picked.
When produce is that fresh, the flavor needs little enhancement. In fact, many would consider it taboo to coat those sweet, golden kernels with anything that masked the flavor.
In my early Fountain Avenue Kitchen days, I asked my blog readers how they preferred to top this seasonal favorite. Answers varied by region and included such options as barbecue sauce, Old Bay seasoning, mayonnaise, pesto, and honey mustard.
One reader said she tops her corn with olive oil, shredded coconut, chopped cilantro and minced garlic before wrapping it in foil and grilling it. Quite a few mentioned ingredients like lime juice, cotija or feta cheese, and cilantro.
As strange as the latter toppings sounded, I soon learned that they’re components of a popular dish called elote. Spanish for the word for corncob, elote is also known as Mexican street corn because it’s commonly sold both on the street and at festivals in Mexico.
The basic formula is as follows: a layer of spicy Mexican crema (similar to sour cream) is slathered on the roasted corn before it’s rolled in crumbled cotija cheese (which is much like feta). Chili powder, cilantro, and lime juice round out the flavors, and it’s often served on a stick.
Esquites is considered the off-the-cob version of elote; the following recipe is my take on that flavorful fare. The addition of a few extra veggies places this easy side dish in the salad category, yet it easily fills the role of vegetable or starch. It’s versatile enough to complement to steak, chicken, seafood, or tacos. On a hot night, consider serving it as part of a cold salad medley.
I have made this salad many times for family, friends and neighbors and it consistently receives glowing reviews. The flavor improves over time as the tangy lime juice mellows and contributes a bright taste that is memorable yet not overwhelming.
For added ease, I’ve made a habit of buying several extra ears whenever corn on the cob is on the menu. After cooking, I immediately set aside enough ears to make this salad another night. The cook-once-eat-twice method can be a savior on a busy weeknight and will relieve you of one extra step when cooking for company.
Tip for locals: Cotija cheese is difficult to find in Lancaster. After much searching, I found it at El Pueblito on Dillerville Road where it’s sold as a 12-ounce wedge. Just a tip for those seeking authenticity, but again, feta cheese is a worthy substitute.
Many frequent readers of this blog have also enjoyed this fresh-tasting recipe for Corn and Cucumber Salad with Basil and Chives. It’s an oldie-but-goodie that can be whipped up in minutes and is always a hit with company.🌽
- 4 large ears of corn, grilled or steamed* (about 3½ cups or 18 ounces kernels)
- 1 red bell pepper (1 cup), seeded and chopped so the pieces are about the same size as the corn kernels
- ½ cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese (may use cotija cheese if available)
- ¼ cup (lightly packed) chopped fresh cilantro (may substitute fresh parsley)
- 2 green onions, sliced (could substitute 1/4 cup minced red onion)
- ¼ cup (52 grams) mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) freshly squeezed lime juice (plus more to taste)
- ½ teaspoon chili powder
- Optional add-ins: chopped avocado; a cup or so of black beans, additional cilantro or parsley to taste; a handful of halved cherry or grape tomatoes, a few slices of cooked and crumbled bacon
Slice the cooked corn off the cobs, and add to a large bowl along with the red pepper, feta, cilantro, and onions.
In a small bowl, mix the mayonnaise, lime juice, and chili powder. (The mayo mixture may be prepared well in advance and refrigerated until ready to use.) Pour over the corn mixture and toss to evenly distribute.
Add a sprinkle of salt and pepper to taste. (I add ⅛ teaspoon or so of each, but have omitted the salt altogether, as the feta cheese provides a hint of saltiness.)
The salad may be served right away, although the flavors will improve after a few hours in the fridge. Leftovers are delicious too.
*You may use frozen and thawed corn when fresh isn’t available. In season, I often cook extra corn on the cob one evening, and then cool and refrigerate it to make this salad especially easy to prepare another night. For a slightly different flavor–or to perk up thawed, frozen corn–you can sear the corn in an oiled skillet over medium-high heat until the corn is lightly browned.